Geek Trivia

Where Did IBM’s Super Computer Watson Learn To Swear?

Playing Poker with Researchers
Watching Jersey Shore
Listening to Audio Books
Reading Urban Dictionary
There Is A Species Of Moth That Has Adapted To Living Entirely On What?
The Watson super computer, behind glass at IBM's headquarters

Answer: Reading Urban Dictionary

In 2011, Watson, the IBM supercomputer best known for its run as a Jeopardy contestant, gained a new tool in its language arsenal: swearing.

Researchers in charge of expanding Watson’s vocabulary and ability to use language in a more nuanced and natural fashion thought it would be helpful to teach Watson slang and colloquial sayings. Essentially, they wanted to give Watson the ability to speak more like we speak to each other and less like a supercomputer carefully selecting an answer.

To this end, the researchers unleashed Watson on Urban Dictionary, the massive internet dictionary of slang words and phrases. On one hand, the experiment was a huge success, crunching through the Urban Dictionary database radically expanded Watson’s word selection and the nuance of its language use. On the other hand, Watson proved to be terrible at distinguishing when its language was and was not appropriate—shortly after it acquired its new vocabulary from Urban Dictionary, it reportedly responded to a researcher’s inquiry with the word “bullshit”.

In response to the changes in Watson’s vocabulary, researchers terminated the experiment and removed all references to the Urban Dictionary from its memory banks.